Sunday, November 18, 2007
Something from Nothing?
I have had a number of discussions here and elsewhere concerning the existence of god. (Really? Yes, really.)
Any number of arguments have been tossed back and forth by myself and others. One of the more perplexing questions posed to me by Sweet Jazzy Cat among others is: Why is there something rather than nothing?
I've had no answer to that one. I've made a few stabs at it, to little effect. Stephen Colbert posed this question to Richard Dawkins on the Colbert Report several months ago. Dawkins had no definitive answer either. While I don't believe having an answer to this question is crucial in a determination of god's existence, it is a question that has dogged me since the first time Jazzy asked it of me.
I am currently reading Victor J. Stenger's GOD: The Failed Hypothiesis - How science shows that god does not exist. For a non-scientific fellow like myself it is a fairly difficult read. It covers a great deal of ground in debunking pretty much every argument for god's existence mainly from the scientific perspective.
While I haven't finished the book - at this writing I'm only about half way thru it - I was very happy to find a section, a sub-section actually titled - surprise, surprise! - "Why is there Something Rather than Nothing?" - the last section of a chapter titled "Cosmic Evidence."
I must admit that I had sneaked a peak ahead of my reading and found this enticing little discussion. However, I utilized great discipline in waiting to read the section until I actually read all that came before.
Now the "discussion" of this particular question is not what you'd call in depth . The section is only about a page and a half in length. But let's take a look at what Stenger has to say.
Stenger writes that this question "is often the last recourse of the theist who seeks to argue for the existence of God from physics and cosmology and finds that all his other arguments fail." Stenger goes on to quote philosopher Bede Rundle who claims that it is "philosophy's central, and most perplexing, question." Rundle's answer is "There has to be something."
First: What is the defiintion of "nothing." Does it have properties? If so, does that make it "something?" Is "nothing" a more natural state than "something?"
Stenger uses the example of snowflakes, one of the more ephemeral phenomenons in nature to illustrate that simple systems are unstable. "Nothing" is as simple as it gets. Why there is something rather than nothing is that 'nothing' is unstable. "The natural state of affairs is something rather than nothing. An empty universe requires supernatural intervention - not a full one. Only by the constant action of an agent outside the universe, such as god, could a state of nothingness be maintained. The fact that we have something is just what we would expect if there is no god."
This is all rather cryptic to me. I must admit that I don't altogether follow it. I doubt that it will put the question to rest, but its something rather than nothing. No?